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Fukushima prof., residents seek to establish an archive of nuke disaster lessons

In this July 17, 2018 file photo, tanks containing water contaminated with radioactive materials are seen on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

KATSURAO, Fukushima -- A Fukushima University professor and his team are gathering materials for an archive project to pass on the lessons learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster in this prefecture in northeastern Japan.

In a March 2017 plan finalized by the Fukushima Prefectural Government, the archives will be inaugurated in the summer of 2020 at a cost of approximately 5.5 billion yen in the town of Futaba, which has been rendered "difficult to live" due to radioactive fallout from the triple core meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011. The facility will have a total floor space of 5,200 square meters with areas for exhibitions, management and research, storage, training sessions and holding meetings. The design was modeled after a similar center in the western Japan city of Kobe that was built to store records of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, but with more focus on the nuclear disaster than the quake itself.

Professor Kenji Yaginuma of Fukushima University's Fukushima Future Center for Regional Revitalization and his team are visiting places affected by the nuclear accident and collecting testimonies of residents, documents, pictures and images for the project.

This photo provided to the Mainichi Shimbun shows a scene from the film "Nuclear Cattle."

Yaginuma recently interviewed Tetsuyama Matsumoto, 61, who used to be a cattle breeder in the village of Katsurao, to hear his story about how his cows had to be slaughtered after the nuclear accident.

"I can't believe they killed the cows without running any tests first," Matsumoto fumed about the action taken after the central government decided that all cattle inside the no-go zone, within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled plant, had to be culled. All eight cattle Matsumoto was keeping had to be killed because his farm was inside the zone. "The cattle were supporting me and my family," Mastsumoto said as he looked over pictures of what happened after the disaster.

Yaginuma listened to Matsumoto's tale intently, using a video camera to record the interview. "The value of relevant documents goes up with testimonies," explained the professor.

On the same day, he also visited the village's board of education as well as the former municipal Katsurao Junior High School to confirm the existence of whiteboards with plans for March 2011 written on it as well as what was written on the blackboards at the school. The school held a graduation ceremony on March 11 that year, the day of the quake disaster. According to the professor, sometimes it takes months for some residents to build up enough confidence to give him some important papers they have.

Yaginuma's team is collecting just about anything that shows the daily lives of residents before the quake, or items that show what happened in the disaster and the ensuing nuclear accident, as well as materials indicative of post-disaster situations.

In November 2017, Yaginuma and his team visited the prefectural Ono Hospital in the town of Okuma, which is just 4 kilometers away from the nuclear plant and is still included in the "difficult-to-return" evacuation area designated by the government.

On the day of the earthquake seven and a half years ago, the hospital accepted many people injured by the jolt and the subsequent tsunami. But all patients and medical staff needed to evacuate at 7 a.m. the next morning using buses and ambulances after an evacuation order due to the nuclear accident was issued. Near the clinic's entrance, papers with patients' names and conditions are posted on a whiteboard. Stands to hang intravenous drip bags are also scattered around, reminiscent of the tense atmosphere of the time.

"We want to make it possible for people to look back on and study the earthquake and nuclear accident from every angle based on these documents," said Yaginuma.

(Japanese original by Takuya Yoshida, Mito Bureau)

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